Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Why Do You Keep Him

By Kimberly Jensen

Kids can be so brutally honest, just go and visit an elementary school classroom or meet my 12 year old niece Savanah. This week we are spending a week with my sister in sunny Arizona. My sister and I shared a bedroom growing up and today we share the joys and challenges of raising special needs children. My son has Autism, while her daughter's disability has never received a clinical name. We were driving home from the pool yesterday and my older two children were telling Savanah that their little brother, the one with autism, can sometimes be quite annoying. Savanah quickly asked, "Well, why do you keep him then?" We laughed and my sister and I exchanged glances and smiles that needed no words, because we are part of the special club that gets to visit Holland again and again.

Welcome To Holland by Emily Perl Kingsley
©1987 by Emily Perl Kingsley. All rights reserved. Article printed with permission of the author.
I am often asked to describe the experience of raising a child with disability - to try to help people who have not shared that unique experience to understand it, to imagine how it would feel. It's like this......
When you're going to have a baby, it's like planning a fabulous vacation trip - to Italy. You buy a bunch of guide books and make your wonderful plans. The Coliseum. The Michelangelo David. The gondolas in Venice. You may learn some handy phrases in Italian. It's all very exciting.
After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives. You pack your bags and off you go. Several hours later, the plane lands. The stewardess comes in and says, "Welcome to Holland."
"Holland?!?" you say. "What do you mean Holland?? I signed up for Italy! I'm supposed to be in Italy. All my life I've dreamed of going to Italy."
But there's been a change in the flight plan. They've landed in Holland and there you must stay.
The important thing is that they haven't taken you to a horrible, disgusting, filthy place, full of pestilence, famine and disease. It's just a different place.
So you must go out and buy new guide books. And you must learn a whole new language. And you will meet a whole new group of people you would never have met.
It’s just a different place. It's slower-paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy. But after you've been there for a while and you catch your breath, you look around.... and you begin to notice that Holland has windmills....and Holland has tulips. Holland even has Rembrandts.
But everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy... and they're all bragging about what a wonderful time they had there. And for the rest of your life, you will say "Yes, that's where I was supposed to go. That's what I had planned."
And the pain of that will never, ever, ever, ever go away...because the loss of that dream is a very very significant loss.
But... if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn't get to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things ... about Holland.


Shirley Bahlmann said...

I've read that Holland piece, and love it. My little sister has Down's Syndrome. Once when we were swimming in Bear Lake as children, I was swishing deer flies away from her. "Why are you doing that?" one of my cousins asked innocently.
"So they don't bite her," I replied.
With a puzzled look, the cousin asked, "But she can't feel it, can she?"
I explained that she most certainly could.
I don't blame my cousin one bit. If you've never been to Holland, how can you really know how a field of tulips looks and smells?

Rebecca Talley said...

I'm not sure I'm a big fan of the Holland story. Someone gave it to me shortly after my son's birth. Yes, I understand the point, but I'm not sure I agree with the premise. I don't think any of us have a guaranteed path or know what to expect, exactly, with any child nor do I think everyone who "goes to Holland" laments the loss of missing Italy.

Just my take on that story and how I felt when I read it.